How has the murder of a journalist become the focus of Slovakia's elections?

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By Stefan Grobe
How has the murder of a journalist become the focus of Slovakia's elections?
Copyright  Roman Hanc - AP

At a make-shift memorial in Bratislava, candles are lit to remember the day that shook Slovakia to the core.

Thousands gathered the city last weekend to honour investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancée, who were assassinated in their home in 2018.

Kuciak had been working on an investigative report into the alleged misuse of EU funds at the highest echelons of the state.

The notion that he was forever silenced by powerful forces was amplified by a murder investigation that was at times murky, but also revealing according to Viktoria Jancosekova  from the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies.

"The investigation of the murder of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova has brought a lot of information that the Slovak state is really functioning as a kleptocratic system, using styles of mafia to enrich themselves. So that reminds me of the darkest times of the Balkans when the mafia was the main actor of the ruling of the countries."

Slovakia's political class is still struggling with the fallout of the Kuciak murder. It hangs over the country as it heads to the ballot boxes to elect a new parliament on Saturday (29 February).

Socialist Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, who assumed office just weeks after the assassination, is set to lose power. But what is interesting is the shift in priorities for voters heading to the ballots. For perhaps the first time in the short history of the Slovak Republic, the voters suspect corruption at the heart of government. 

"We have seen that in the previous parliamentary election the rule of law was not an issue at all, the discussion was about the economy and migration," says Jakub Jaraczewski from Democracy Reporting International. "In this election the rule of law is front and centre. The assassination has opened a kind of Pandora's Box and I believe that the Slovak people saw the extent of issues with the rule of law with the independence of the judiciary and corruption in the country, and it began to be one of the most important elements of the political discussion in Slovakia right now."

Polls taken in the run-up to the elections showed deep mistrust in Slovak institutions. A Eurobarometer survey from December 2019 showed that up to 72 per cent of the public didn't trust the country's legal system.